My love for Japanese mystery novels is well known and after finishing A Man by Keiichiro Hirano it joins the ranks of favourites.
In Japanese mysteries, I love above all the slow pace, the exploration of various themes, the philosophical exploration of life and all it entails.
I know for the Western mystery reader, Japanese mysteries can be a bit of a departure, but I wish more people would explore them. In many ways, I have begun to think of Japanese mysteries as mysteries for people who loath crime fiction and who-dunnits.
A Man is essentially an exploration of identity, the mystery at the centre is the suddenly missing identity of a now dead person: the people grieving the death thought they knew the dead person, but suddenly the dead person has no name, no identity. A lawyer takes on the case to deal with the aftermath of the discovery (family registers in Japan are a subject that forever fascinate me) and then begins to investigate who the man could have been. Kido, the lawyer, is someone who is at odds with his own identity and becomes fascinated in this man lacking an identity. This is partially due to his Korean heritage, and despite being a naturalised Japanese citizen still suffers from the racism against Korean Zainichi.
Where the novel really excels though for me is in the wider exploration of identity. Every single character in this book is unsure of their identity, struggling with it, trying to define themselves and this really pulled me into this novel. It made me contemplate identity as a wider theme of our lives, something that changes, can be burdensome and something that some of us at times may want to shed.
A lot of Japanese mysteries I have read over the years have this multi-layered aspect to it. If Western mysteries are pianos, then Japanese mysteries are organs full of registers and tones and require hands and feet to play them.
I cried at the end of this book. It was beautiful, touching, shocking, haunting… I really hope more of Hirano’s work will be translated soon, because if the rest of his books are like this novel, then I certainly want to read more of them.
Published June 1st 2020 by Amazon Crossing (first published September 28th 2018)